French troops are on patrol and on guard in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic. In their mission to disarm former militias they have traded fire with rebels who have refused to lay down their weapons.
It is reported many fled after the firefight. The 1,600 strong French force was sent to CAR after days of heavy fighting between Christians and Muslims left almost 400 dead in the capital.
Seleka rebels – many from neighbouring Chad and Sudan – had seized power in March. Disarming the former fighters has not been easy.
“The difficult thing is that with some of these militias which we call the former Seleka, I was told many of them have taken off their uniforms and are now dressed as civilians so we need to ask for the weapons but it is difficult to recognise these individuals,” said French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius.
One man suspected of being a member of the alliance of mainly Muslim rebel groups which formed the Seleka militia was set upon by a crowd in the capital. The French troops were forced to intervene before taking the alleged rebel away for questioning.
Such are the tensions in the city, a Christian was badly wounded when he was attacked by Muslims with claims from locals the man was carrying grenades.
Beyond the borders of the capital there are further problems. The Central African Republic’s bush and forest terrain also makes it difficult to flush out the dissident fighters.
France’s Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, warned his troops would use force if necessary if the rebels did not surrender their weapons.
The French were sent to the CAR on Friday after the UN Security Council backed a mandate to restore order.